Antiperspirants: Cause of Breast Cancer?

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Antiperspirants: Cause of Breast Cancer?
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Recent decades have brought enormous increases in breast cancer. Rather than look for a reason, most research has centered on finding treatments, though with little effect on outcomes. Philippa Darbre, though, has dedicated her efforts to finding if aluminum, a known human toxin that's the basis for antiperspirants, could be the culprit.

We live in the Age of Aluminum, a time that brings great convenience, but at the expense of enormous health damage. A likely case in point is the massive upsurge in breast cancer and fibrocystic disease, a condition of cyst formation in the breasts. Aluminum of the periodic table is the most likely cause of both these conditions.

Keele Conference participant Philippa Darbre has dedicated herself to researching this epidemic. She states:

Mortality results from breast tumour growth at metastatic sites rather than in the breast itself.

That is, breast tumors don't kill, but their metastases do.  The research she presented at February's Keele Conference on the Biological Effects of Aluminum demonstrate that aluminum in the breast causes changes that can lead to deadly metastasis in breast cancer. She had, though, done a great deal of other research before broaching the issue of metastasis, including investigations of the relative amount of aluminum in cancerous and noncancerous breast tissue, the amount of aluminum found in breast fluid, dispersal of aluminum in breast tissue, and other issues related to aluminum and other metals in human health. Her focus is centered on aluminum in cosmetics, particularly antiperspirants.

Aluminum in Breast Tissue

Breast cancer is more common in the outer upper quadrant of the breast, which may be indicative of a connection with aluminum salts in antiperspirants. Drs. Darbre and Christopher Exley conducted a study to determine the amount of aluminum found in different parts of the breast.[1]They measured the content of aluminum in the four breast quadrants of 17 women who had undergone mastectomies. The following graph shows the results:

Graph of Al Concentrations in Breast Tissue

Each bar represents 100% of the aluminum found in each woman, and is divided into four sections to indicate the percent of aluminum found in each quadrant. The bottom two sections show the percentage of aluminum found in the two outer quadrants, axilla and lateral. The graph shows that, on average, signifcantly more aluminum is stored in the outer area of women's breasts.

This leads to two questions: Does aluminum cause breast cancer? and Is the concentration of aluminum in the outer quadrants of breasts a result of antiperspirants, whose active ingredient is an aluminum compound? This study clarifies, though, that aluminum found in antiperspirants mustbe considered a potential breast carcinogen.

Aluminum as an Estrogen Mimic

Many metals are estrogen mimics, making them potentially dangerous in the human body because of their ability to combine with estrogen receptors, thus replacing natural estrogen. Dr. Darbre did a study demonstrating that aluminum is also an estrogen mimic.

In the first part, she grew MCF7 breast cancer cells in the presence of estradiol (a type of estrogen) for 14 days. Then, she added one of different concentrations of two types of aluminum compounds used in antiperspirants, aluminum chloride and aluminum chlorhydrate and measured changes in the growth rate of the cancer cells.

Results are shown in the graph above. Both Al chloride and Al chlorhydrate interfere with breast cancer cell growth. Al chloride inhibited estradiol binding by 40% at 2.5 x molar excess (blue arrow) and 99.9% at 10 x molar excess (green circle). Al chlorhydrate inhibited estradiol binding by 64% at 5.0 x molar excess (red arrow) and 100% at 10 x molar excess (green circle).

Graph, Al Slows Breast Cancer Cell GrowthThe next experiment is similar, but rather than investigating interference with estradiol function, the needed amount of Al chloride and Al chlorhydrate to interfere with breast cancer cell growth was investigated. MCF7 cancer cells were grown in the lab and then concentrations of Al chloride or Al chlorhydrate were introduced. A concentration of 10-3 mole of either Al chloride or Al chlorhydrate was required to cause disruption in cell growth. Therefore, MCF7 cells are resilient to high concentrations of these aluminum compounds.

The last part of this group of experiments demonstrated that aluminum, whether in the form of Al chloride or Al chlorhydrate, acts in the same manner as other estrogen-mimicking metals by increasing estrogen-regulated reporter gene expression, both in and out of estradiol's presence.

Closing the Noose on Antiperspirants

These two studies by Dr. Darbre have shown:

  • Aluminum found in breast tissue of cancerous breasts is more prevalent in the outer breast, matching the most common location of breast cancer, the upper outer quadrant, the area where underarm antiperspirants are routinely used.
  • Aluminum in two compounds frequently found in antiperspirants acts as an estrogen mimic and interferes with estrogen's function.

This doesn't add up to proof positive that aluminum either causes breast cancer or that aluminum in antiperspirants does. It does, though, add up to prima facie evidence that it's possible and that aluminum in antiperspirants should be put on trial. In the hope of stopping the breast cancer epidemic, the precautionary principle indicates that these products need to be investigated to find for sure whether there is a cause-and-effect connection.

Sadly, the health agencies that should be protecting us are not even looking at the risk. As a result, the science progresses slowly. Nonetheless, Philippa Darbre has taken the torch to carry this critical research forward. Do Antiperspirants Cause Breast Cancer? continues with more of her research that further tightens the noose on antiperspirants and their association with breast cysts and cancer.


  1. Aluminium in human breast tissueJournal of Inorganic Biochemistry; Christopher Exley, Lisa M Charles, Lester Barr, Claire Martin, Anthony Polwart, Philippa D Darbre; doi:10.1016/j.jinorgbio.2007.06.005
  2. Aluminium, antiperspirants and breast cancerJournal of Inorganic Biochemistry; P.D. Darbre; doi:10.1016/j.jinorgbio.2005.06.001
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